About this Blog

Welcome! Thanks for checking out On Food Stamps.

I created this blog in 2009 when I began working at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank. My work at this organization opened my eyes to food justice issues in America, and I had a strong desire to better understand the difficulties many people face when trying to access healthy food on a limited budget. So, I embarked on my own Food Stamp Challenge, living on $31/week as a vegan. I used this blog to chronicle my experience.

While my Food Stamp Challenge project has come to an end, you can see what I learned from it by reading the Greatest Hits posts linked to the right side of the page. Please excuse any out-of-date links, as I am no longer updating this blog on a regular basis.

Stay Hungry,


Monday, January 25, 2010

Bad Apples

For the first time in a very long time I bought apples from a large chain supermarket.

During the holidays I won two gift cards to Ralphs/Food-4-Less in an office raffle, and after my trip to San Francisco ($$$) I decided it was time to break down and use them to buy my week's groceries.

In order to get the most bang for my buck I went to the Food-4-Less near where I work. I bought mostly produce - lettuce, a few mangoes (on sale), a cucumber and the apples you see above.

I have to say, I have found these apples to be really disappointing. Compared to the Farmers' Market apples my taste buds have gotten used to, these are like eating wet sawdust. My mouth can tell that they were grown to travel well, not to taste good.

Never again, Food-4-Less, never again...

P.S. Kitchen craft Idea: check out the cork board I made in the background. I had my friend who works at a restaurant collect the wine corks for me and hot glued them into a tray I bought at the Goodwill store. Yeah for recycling!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Local Food. Local People. Avedano's Meats.

Vegetarianism is a major pillar of sustainable eating for me. Few things would bring me to venture into a butcher shop, but when I came across this place in Bernal Heights in San Francisco I was curious.

Maybe it was the "Local Food. Local People." thing. Whatever it was, I found myself talking to a young man over a display case of meat.

Turns out, this butcher shop has quite the mission:

We believe that exceptional meals start with exceptional raw materials—and with a combined 40 years experience in the food industry, we should know. We source premium products our customers can feel good about: grass-fed beef, wild-caught and responsibly farmed fish, seasonal local and organic produce, and handpicked gourmet pantry items. Our menu of prepared foods changes daily so that we can select from the freshest, best ingredients available each day. Our mission is to provide our customers with great food they can feel confident eating.

I admire, once again, this small business with a clear mission that aligns profit with conscience. As my dad likes to say, "Doing good while doing well."

I bought a Carmel candy in support. That says a lot.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pie on a Mission

I stopped by Mission Pie while I was in San Francisco.

I LOVE their business mission statement:

Mission Pie is a corner café, bakery, and neighborhood gathering place in the Mission District of San Francisco, located at the intersection of two busy streets and several vibrant, interwoven communities. Our seasonally shifting menu of pies, baked good and light savory fare focuses on the produce of nearby farms that employ organic and sustainable methods. We are here every day to engage folks toward a deeper relationship with and responsibility to the environments, enterprises and people that sustain us.

Through creative choices in all aspects of the business, from our energy-efficient kitchen to our delicious Fair Trade/organic tea and coffee to the reclaimed and recycled materials with which the café is constructed, Mission Pie is guided by a commitment to environmental, social and economic justice. We offer a wholesome and supportive atmosphere not only for lovers of great coffee and pie, but for our workers as well, as we collaborate with local youth advocacy organizations to provide a positive work environment to San Francisco youth. As a thriving, progressive, for-profit business, we relish the opportunity to reinvest productively and creatively not just in the quality of our ingredients and equipment, but in the lives of the people and communities around and within us.

Ok, what if this type of business mission statement existed for large farming corporations? I love the concept of the for-profit business that honors a bottom line beyond just financial profits. Horray for reinvestment in the community. Horray for a big picture view of sustainability and community impact. Horray for great pie that I can feel great about eating!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Garden in the Alley

Creative vegetable gardening in San Francisco. That Kale looks delicious.

Nice use of barrels in the alleyway!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Healthy Foods in Disguise

I want to thank Mike for his comment about the Orange Juice. Orange Juice, like many other foods, is one of those tricky things that might seem healthy but secretly is not. OJ is often as loaded with sugar as a soda! I tend to stick to water or club soda and simply add lime or lemon juice for flavor.

Juices and dried fruits are always dangerous - not as healthy as the seem.

I had my own "Nutritious Foods in Disguise" experience this weekend.

A friend of mine from work invited me to take a cooking class with her called How to Make Vegetables Taste Great. Right up my alley! I signed up.

While I certainly learned a great deal from the class and really enjoyed making everything from saag paneer to roasted Brussels sprouts, there was one point that really disappointed me. Many of the recipes relied heavily on oil or butter for flavoring. I was really frustrated because the class seemed to just reinforce the notion that veggies are not tasty or satisfying, that they require a lot of fat and "doctoring" to taste good. Of course, a little butter makes anything taste better, but I have found that an open mind and some re-training of the palette can lead to a genuine enjoyment of vegetables and their natural flavor.

Some of my favorite ways to prepare vegges include:

  • Sauteing with ginger, lime juice and a bit of soy sauce
  • Steaming in fruit juice in general - lime, lemon or orange work great
  • Steaming and adding cracked pepper and salt in moderation
  • Sauteing in a small amount of olive oil and apple cider vinegar
  • Cooking in "Hot Vinegar" - apple cider vinegar + hot sauce
  • Roasting with a bit of olive oil and cracked pepper/salt
  • Cooking in a curry sauce that does not use too much oil - cumin, curry, cinnamon, coriander, clovers, cardamom, turmeric, mustard seeds and paprika are all great to mix around in a curry
  • Steaming in miso broth (which I make myself by simply adding miso paste to water)
  • Stir frying with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, mustard, honey and some spicy pepper
There are lots of way to make vegetables taste great without 3,000 calories worth of butter! Please tell me how you like you prepare your veggies in the comments section. Always looking for new ideas...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dr. Seuss Fruit

Sometimes, when I am eating the local seasonal produce in Southern California I feel like I am living in a Dr. Seuss book.

Have you ever tried a Cherimoya?

These fruits are in season right now and were relatively cheap at one of my favorite farmers' stands. I was skeptical at first - as you can see, the fruit looks pretty ugly from the outside.

The farmer broke one open for me with his bare hands. Inside there is tender white fruit gathered around dark black seeds in a flaky way that feels almost like white fish. I asked him how to eat it. He motioned to me to just stick my mouth into it. I did. It was delicious.

I just finished eating another Cherimoya. This flavorfully rewarding fruit is a reminder that one must be open to trying new things in order to eat seasonal produce from the Farmers' Market.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I want to throw up

I can watch 5 seconds of this ad, tops, before I want throw up. Seriously. I will give you a prize if you can watch the whole thing.

This is an incredibly successful campaign because it grosses me out beyond belief. Never ever ever drinking soda again! Ah!

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year: New Tactic

In many cultures and in many households people pray before they eat.

I did not grow up praying before each meal and always felt a little bit awkward when I found myself a guest at a "pray before we eat" table. I never quite knew what to do. As a child I was always a little bit afraid someone might ask me to offer the blessing. Despite many regrettable mornings at my local Catholic church's Sunday School, I did not feel prepared to offer a pre-meal prayer.

Instead of a "pray before we eat" family, I grew up in a "non-mindful eating" family. A grazing, snacking family. Not an obese family, but a family where your mother might eat the food off of your plate. Or where you (as I often did) might eat something standing in front of the fridge right before dinner because you were hungry and impatient about it. It was a family where you wouldn't get scolded for eating out of the fridge before dinner really, either. Mindful eating was not something we emphasized.

Now I am beginning to think more about the ritual of putting food in my body. Maybe I should be "praying" before I eat. Prayer before a meal has a lot of important functions:
  • it slows us down and forces us to pause
  • it gives us a chance to meditate on where our food came from and what efforts went into bringing it to our table - from harvesting to cooking. (This might lead us to place greater value on sustainability and home cooking over fast food alternatives.)
  • it directly draws our mind's attention to the fact that we are, indeed, about to eat. Certainly the opposite of devouring a bag of chips by mistake while watching TV.
  • it makes meal times special and bestows a ritualistic weight upon them
I have a feeling that taking a moment to pray in whatever fashion feels appropriate would be a big help in the quest for a nutritious diet and sensible portions.

Therefore, every day before I eat from here on out I am going to try to take a moment to pray in my own way. For me, that prayer is simply several deep long breaths. My prayer consists of thinking about the journey my food took to arrive at my table and being mindful of each bite and how those bites make my body feel. It is taking the time to feel my body in a state of hunger so that I can be more in tune with the signals of being full. It is about expressing gratitude and respect for the food I have before me, not wasting it by eating more than I need or throwing any away.

I am very interested to hear from you:

1. Do you have any food-related 2010 Resolutions?
2. If you try a pre-meal prayer or gratitude ritual, does it change the way you experience your meal time at all? Does is impact your eating behavior or the culture of your table?

Happy New Year everyone!

Zen Cooking